More Resources for San Jose Tenants with New Legal Clinic

San Jose tenants have a new monthly renter's legal clinic every fourth Thursday of the month at Sacred Heart Community Service. Read about what coordinator Evelina Nava has encountered with tenants already and the importance of tenants learning about their rights.

Tenants Together, California’s only statewide renter’s rights organization, has partnered with Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose to hold monthly tenants’ rights clinics. Evelina Nava, an Equal Justice Works Fellow with Tenants Together, coordinates legal clinics in Richmond and Concord, and as of last month launched a clinic in San Jose along with project sponsors Intel and Perkins Coie. 

“The goal of the project,” says Nava, “is to help improve rental conditions and combat slum housing for the health and safety of very vulnerable tenants who are afraid of speaking out because they fear getting evicted.”    

San Jose tenants are long overdue for effective tenant protections. The city’s rent control ordinance put in place in 1980 is only now being reconsidered by the city council, and a recent study found that units under the ordinance have a higher rate of rent increases than regular market units, the most rent burdened populations, and detrimental overcrowding issues.

The legal clinics combine organizing and legal support. A general tenants’ rights meeting provides a safe space for tenants to understand their current rights, share their stories and hear about how other tenants have successfully challenged their landlords or have been able to obtain repairs. Free legal counseling with brief advice and referrals to individual tenants is also provided along with follow up assessments of whether tenants in a building with systematic and egregious habitability problems move forward in organizing for changes.

“In cases where we decide to organize with tenants to call code enforcement or just request repairs from the landlord we are committed to providing legal support in case of retaliatory evictions because that is illegal under the law,” says Nava.

“There’s just a lot of misinformation here [in San Jose] that tenants are getting from their landlords and their property managers,” Nava stated.

Nava has seen first hand that renters who come to the clinic are reluctant to meet with attorneys for fear of being seen talking to a lawyer. “When I talk to tenants individually, there is a lot of fear around being evicted,” she says. Tenants she’s spoken to are being told by their landlords that even if they win in court, they can just give them a notice several months later and then take them to court again; that if they don’t move by the end of the eviction notice they will immediately be locked out by a Sherriff; told they have one day to get all their belongings out or the police will come; and many tenants are being evicted orally without receiving any documents as is their right under the law. Tenants are not aware that there is a court process that they are legally entitled to and that they can actually challenge evictions that are retaliatory.

At the last clinic tenants wrote about terrible conditions in their apartments in letters to Mayor Sam Liccardo and she noted “a sense of hopelessness about doing anything about their situation given that there weren’t clear protections for them.”

“In all of the other cities where I have worked and where there has been rent control, just cause protections have helped mitigate those sorts of pressures; here in San Jose though tenants are defenseless,” says Nava.

The habitability clinics were started here precisely because of the high risk of retaliatory evictions. Currently, landlords do not need to state any reason to evict a tenant from their property and just cause policies prevent unjust evictions. Just cause usually goes hand in hand with rent control measures that prevent unfair rent increases. In San Jose, some 44,000 units are subject to rent control and state law limits the expansion of rent control to newer buildings, but would not limit a just cause ordinance to only units under rent control.

Compared to the other places Nava has worked, she says there are also very few tenant attorneys in the local area, “so even tenants who have strong slam dunk cases go without representation and sign awful settlements that are worse than if they had not come to court and argued the case,” she said.

Even when tenants have strong defenses they usually lose in court. “In those cases, the tenants have been given no fault notices or illegal eviction notices and having just cause would have helped protect those tenants,” asserts Nava. “It would also provide assurance and peace of mind to the tenants who want to assert their rights, but who have been harassed and intimidated into keeping silent,” she adds.

It’s important for tenants to become informed about their rights and to join together, said Nava, so they can strengthen their rights because they never know when they might need to assert their rights or defend themselves. “We really want them to have hope that things can change and we want to encourage them to become involved,” she said.

Next Clinic: Thursday March 24th at 6pm  
Sacred Heart Community Service  
131 1st Street 
San Jose, CA 95110

Renter’s rights meetings start at 6:30pm, please arrive early as assistance is provided on a first come, first serve basis

Clinics are every Fourth Thursday of the month  

For questions about the clinic call Evelina Nava at 415.495.8100 ext 1007


Other resources:

Tenants Together bilingual tenants hotline at 888 495 8020 to receive free counseling

Bay Area Legal Aid focuses on tenants with disabilities and those who are living in Section 8 housing 

The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley has an eviction clinic on Fridays by appointment

152 N. 3rd Street, 3rd Floor, San José, CA 95112 every Friday from 9am-12pm, you can call to leave a message at 408.280.2452.

About Liz Gonzalez

Liz Gonzalez is a San Jose based writer and holistic healing practitioner, she leads a weekly meditation circle at De-Bug on Tuesday nights at 7:30 pm.

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